Date: Fri, 8 Sep 1995 22:16:35 EDT From: Larry Horn Subject: Re: contempt vs. content This is a question that particularly interests me, since one of my recent research programs has exploited this very contrast. Let me explain and illustrate. In a paper I gave at a conference in Helsinki in 1993 (following earlier oral presentations of the same material) and wrote up for the proceedings, I sponsored a slogan of the form "Familiarity Breeds CNTNT". The paper, called "Economy and Redundancy in a Dualistic Model of Natural Language", was published in SKY 1993 ("SKY" is, of course, an acronym for the Linguistic Association of Finland--don't ask), edited by Maria Vilkuna and Susanna Shore. The first section of the paper is called I. FAMILIARITY BREEDS CNTNT: an overview and a relevant passage refers notes that "...the inverse correlation of familiarity and linguistic form--the principle I dub Familiarity Breeds CNTNT--is reflected by minimal pairs in which the locally more familiar or frequent member retains or comes to acquire reduced expression." (This principle, unlike its cover label, is hardly my invention; it was iden- tified by Paul, Martinet, and especially Zipf. I'll spare you the details, since this isn't a pragmatics list, but sample illustrations of its effects include the degree of vowel reduction in frequent words [astronomy vs. gastronomy]; the initialization of OSU with different interpretations in the midwest, southwest, and northwest; and the "marking reversals" noted by Witkowski and Brown in their Language paper in 1983.) So a few months after the paper appeared, I received an outraged note from a friend and colleague, who (while not a native speaker) evidently shares the majority dialect of ADSers... >Date: Mon, 25 Apr 1994 11:36:07 -0500 >From: Knud Lambrecht >To: lhorn[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] >Subject: breeds cntNt ??? >I hve nthng bt cntMPt fr yr ignrnce, lrry. >Or is it the Finns that screwed up? You can all see where this is heading, and you can probably anticipate my response to Knud... >No, no, it's intentional, and in any case it's not the Finns' fault. Now I'll >admit that the more standard and no doubt the original form of the adage is >the -MP- version. But I've heard the other quite a bit too, and assume it >responds to "Out of sight, out of mind", just as the other (your) version >responds to "Absence makes the heart grow fonder". (Sort of like "Look >before you leap" and "Fools go in where angels fear to tread" vs. "He >who hesitates is lost".) In any event, since it's got to represent the >idea that the more familiar or predictable the expression is, the more >compressed the content can be, while keeping the form >constant (cnstnt?), I need it to be my version. Of course, this assumes a >finesse over CONtent and conTENT as well as over familiarity's breedee, but I >assume you'll let that one pass. Too bad there's no OED for adages. My background is New York City > Rochester > Southern California > Northern California >... I have no idea where I might have picked up the "content" version, and I freely acknowledge that I'm not the most impartial source. In any case, I'm mr thn cntnt to welcome a few speakers with no career stake in their judgment to my side of the isogloss. --Larry